A new spirit is bursting forth everywhere. The Industrial Era, which has defined our reality since the Renaissance (the last major social transformation in our historical experience) is now coming to an end. This modern age with its rational, reductionist mind set, its patriarchal patterns of power and dominance, and its materialistic, competitive values has reached its limits to growth. These patterns and values brought with them great material and scientific progress; but it is this very success that is turning the Industrial Era into a nightmare. We must let it go.
Let us give it a grand funeral, and get on with the task of co-creating a future that will be joyful, loving and life-enhancing. Let us not throw out this vast accumulated knowledge, but instead liberate it from the narrow confines of the modern mindset and redefine it in the new mode of dynamic wholeness and connection.
Spirituality is at the very core of this exercise, for spirit is not only the connecting energy that will weave back together again the pieces cut asunder by the reductionist, materialist drivers of the modern era. It is the very essence of the new era we are creating.
The old Hebrew definition for spirit was "to breathe," and the Latin word spiritus meant breathing or wind – the breath of life. The Chinese used the word Ch’i to mean wind, breath, fire, and essence. Like breath, the spirit is always there even if we are not aware of it. Like wind, it can be a gentle breeze or a massive force; and like fire, it can light our way and heat our bodies – or destroy everything in its path.
The way we have defined spirit or spirituality in the Modern era reflects the dominant characteristics of this age. Because spirit is not material – you can’t see it, touch it, or count it – it was not considered important. Because the direct experience of spirit was denied to us, we did not trust ourselves to know good. We needed the scripture, the priest, the guru, or the scientist to tell us what to do.
In giving our spirit over to patriarchal powers, we also projected our dark side onto "others," thereby justifying our violent and aggressive behaviors. Without our spiritual grounding, we were easily manipulated by those who claimed to have access to a higher authority. Because the spirit is so powerful, its manipulation has been one of the most tragic aspects of the Industrial Age. We all have vivid memories of these tragedies, from the burning of the witches at the beginning of the era, to the Nazi reign of terror, to the white supremacist sects of today.
There is deeply embedded in all of us a very real and understandable fear of this shadow side of spirituality. Unless we embrace this and work through it, it will be very difficult for us to reclaim our spiritual gifts.
And these gifts of the spirit are many. Through the healing powers of the spirit, we can heal ourselves and our planet, reconnect our lives and our communities. Spirit will empower us, because spirit is inner power. And finally, spirit will reenchant the world with its mysterious and magical qualities. With spirit will come humility to honor that which we do not understand; a realization that there is not one right way, nor one right answer; an acceptance of the irony of all existence; and an understanding that reality is made up of opposites balancing and dancing with each other – the ongoing Cosmic Journey.
But we cannot accept these gifts without also accepting responsibility for their use. The shadow side of community can be deadening conformity. The shadow side of empowerment can be arrogance. Passion can turn into fanaticism. And mystery without understanding can be kooky or terrorizing. Even the healing power of the spirit must be tempered with knowing when not to heal, for to relish life is to accept death. This may be particularly true for the decaying social structures we are all caught in: it is time to let them die so there can be a new resurrection.
When Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humans, we lost the innocence of other animals. We are different, and we have a special role to play in evolution, particularly in the profound transformation we are now going through. This is the irony of the Promethean gift to humans: we must tend the fire or it will rage out of control.
The Great Spirit is counting on us. She has given us all of the resources we need, and He is challenging us to leap. It will not be easy; but each of us has only our own small part to play. And play it we will, for the Genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. Too many of us have gotten a glimpse of how powerful we really are. Together we are dreaming a future – a future that we now know is possible.
Dee Berry is the former coordinator of the clearinghouse for the U.S. Green Committees of Correspondence. For information on the Green Movement, contact Green CoC, PO Box 30208, Kansas City, MO 64112.